Not so long ago I discussed the recent development of a potential vaccine for the treatment of high cholesterol. Interestingly, it now appears that the possibility of creating a vaccine for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease is also gaining momentum.
Vaccines can be thought of as "educators" of our immune system, and by using vaccines we can tell our body to fight particular regions on proteins -- a skill that matures in its specificity and effectiveness over time. As we have discussed here on AAAS MemberCentral in previous blogs (see below for links), though we are not yet sure of the fundamental pathomechanism underlying Alzheimer's disease, we do know that there is an accumulation of amyloid proteins in the nervous system that is believed to reduce cognitive function. By using vaccines it is therefore theoretically possible to target these proteins for destruction and subsequently slow the progression of the disease.
Vaccines in animal models have shown effectiveness in reducing amyloid proteins, but a previous trial in humans was unsuccessful as safety concerns arose when patients began to develop meningoencephalitis - a life threatening condition.
In a recent study published by The Lancet Neurology, the tolerability and safety of a newly designed vaccine against amyloid proteins was assessed and demonstrated no significant side effects. This has opened the door for the vaccine to progress to the next phase of study which will ultimately assess the vaccine's efficacy in slowing or halting the progression of mild-moderate Alzheimer's disease. It is therefore important to note that this study itself did not assess the ability of the vaccine to treat Alzheimer's. However, I remain cautiously optimistic of its potential.